No Big Hits, but Bookshops Say They’re Thriving


Last year, there was a clear winner among books for the holiday gift of choice: “Steve Jobs,” by Walter Isaacson. This year, despite a lineup of offerings from literary heavyweights, many of whom have commanded strong sales in the past, there has not been a breakout hit for the holiday season, booksellers say.
Stuart Isett for The New York Times
Browsing at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle. Independent bookstores report good sales.
Books like Bob Woodward’s “Price of Politics,” Tom Wolfe’s “Back to Blood” and Salman Rushdie’s “Joseph Anton” have each sold well under 100,000 copies by the end of last week according to Nielsen Bookscan. (In contrast, the Jobs biography sold 379,000 copies in the first week after its release in October 2011.)
While Bookscan does not include e-books and covers only roughly 75 percent of retail outlets, this year’s figures provide a snapshot of the fragmented holiday sales picture as a whole: independent bookstores report that a range of books are moving nicely, but there are mixed numbers from Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest book chain, and solid but not stellar growth in digital sales. Independent bookstore owners say they are thriving even without that surefire best seller because of a wide array of options this year: everything from Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” (list price $28.99) to Chris Ware’s expensive graphic novel “Building Stories” — which comes with 14 components, including bound volumes, a board and a tabloid newspaper ($50) — to attractive impulse buys like “I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats” ($12.95).
Peter Aaron, the owner of the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, said sales were up 15 percent over the Thanksgiving weekend and tracking well for December. In addition to “Building Stories,” he said other surprise sellers were “Dear Life,” by Alice Munro, and “Why Does the World Exist?,” by Jim Holt, a treatise that combines cosmology and philosophy. “It is not an easy book, but it is doing really well,” Mr. Aaron said.
There are many reasons bookstores point to for their successful holiday season. President Obama, they note, set the stage when he took his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to One More Page Books in Arlington, Va., on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, where he snapped up 15 children’s books.
Small bookstores report that they are also benefiting from the popularity of Kobo e-readers, which were designed for independent bookstores and allow customers to buy e-books through the independents’ Web sites, as opposed to say, Amazon.